Review of Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey Directed by Rachel Dretzin
Keep Sweet is a story about greed, corruption, sexual abuse, and cults. Using a combination of archival footage, interviews, and reenactments, the filmmakers tell the story of the rise and fall of Warren Jeffs and his followers in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).
It all starts when one man, Rulon Jeffs, decides that he wants to practice polygamy. To get around legal issues, he forms the FLDS and calls himself the prophet. To his followers, he is God personified. No one seemed to have a problem when Rulon, in his eighties, started taking on new wives who were decades younger. When Rulon dies, his son Warren takes over and declares himself the new prophet. The polygamy continues with even younger girls, some as young as twelve.
The first two episodes show how the multiple wives and the never-ending assembly line of new children, especially girls, form a closed society cut off from the rest of the world. The Keep Sweet in the title refers to the preachings of Jeffs, who demands that the women portray a happy and pure persona, forcing them to dress in pastel-colored dresses and cater to the whims of their husbands.
The last two episodes deal with law enforcement’s efforts to put Jeffs on trial for accessory to rape and, ultimately, the rape of underaged girls.
Jeffs keeps everyone in line by exerting total control over his followers. If anyone criticizes him or expresses a reluctance to follow one of his decrees, they are kicked out of the church. That’s when things start to fall apart for Warren Jeffs.
One woman, forced into marriage at age fifteen, decides to go to the authorities after being thrown out of the church. That starts the ball rolling. Meanwhile, Jeffs has a new plan for his most devoted followers – Zion, a place described as heaven on earth. In truth, it is a breeding ground for trafficking young girls. The whole thing is similar to the plotline of the film The Island.
Through the interviews of former cult members, you see how the control of information can distort reality. You see it now in Russia, North Korea, and other nations led by Authoritarian leaders. The sad part is that it is nearly impossible to break through to someone who has been fed propaganda their entire lives.
Warren Jeffs eventually gets what he deserves, but the other church members engaged in polygamy and rape of underage girls get away scot-free.